Larry Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers to ever play football. He’s had a marvellous career with many outstanding accomplishments. I remember the Super Bowl in 2008, watching him sprint down the field for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to put the Arizona Cardinals ahead with very little time left on the clock. It was one of the more memorable moments in Super Bowl history. Everyone thought the underdog Cardinals were going to be champions. But, alas, the clock struck midnight on the Cardinals’ Cinderella season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers answered with a touchdown of their own to cap off the game and win the Lombardi trophy.
Fitzgerald told me that he still thinks about that loss. Nine years later, the loss still “haunts” him. He also said that he doesn’t think he’ll ever fully get over it. So how does he deal with it? “I always use negative experiences–things that I’ve experienced over the course of my life—to serve as a reminder.” Like many of the top performers I’ve interviewed in my life, Larry uses his negative moments to push himself to greater heights. This brings me to the first major lesson that I learned from him…
Lesson One–Work Ethic: “No matter what you do in life, when you work hard at it, you’re gonna get better at it.” For Fitzgerald, the loss in the Super Bowl drove him to work harder, and smarter, than ever before. His career was in its early stages in 2008. Since then, he has continued to be at the top of the league, or very near the top, in numerous statistical categories. Even when his team hasn’t been very good, Fitzgerald has played at an elite level. Now, at age 33, he recognizes that there are some things that he can’t do anymore. But he doesn’t believe that he is any less of a player now than he was early in his career. In fact, he thinks he’s better.
How can he be better than he was when he was in his physical prime? He believes that his longevity is the result of his work ethic and commitment to learning. He understands the strategy of the game better now. His technique has also improved. He is constantly striving to get better, to “redefine” himself. That commitment to excellence is what has allowed Fitzgerald to still be great after all these years.
Lesson Two—Lifelong Learning: “I had plenty of mentors” . . . “I read everything I can get my hands on.” You know, something I’ve noticed over the years is that truly excellent performers are constantly searching for ways to get to the next level. Fitzgerald is no different. When he was a rookie with the Cardinals, he tried to emulate Emmitt Smith–who is widely recognized as one of the greatest players of all time. Fitzgerald watched the way Smith did everything—from how he conducted himself at practice, to how he did interviews. He knew that Smith’s success wasn’t an accident, and he wanted to copy the same formula. It worked.
But Emmitt Smith wasn’t the only person Fitzgerald learned from. He found mentors in other great athletes like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Chris Carter, and Kurt Warner. He also sought out advice and counsel from family members, coaches, and spiritual leaders. His success has been the result of a lifelong search to understand the principles that lead to greatness.
He also reads constantly. This is a habit that I’ve seen in many great people. High achievers are always searching to find ways to improve themselves. I had mentors and guidance in my career, and it made a world of difference. When you take ownership over your own personal development, you set the course for your life. It’s no coincidence that Fitzgerald developed into the person that he has become. He did it on purpose, every step of the way. The reason I wanted to do these interviews and write these blogs is because I want to help people live with that same type of purpose. I want to provide high achievers with another resource in their own search for greatness.
Lesson Three—Know how to Communicate. “I enjoy having face-to-face conversations with people. I think it’s a lost art.” I didn’t expect our conversation to turn towards the topic of communication. But I was happy to discuss the topic with him, because it’s one of my favorites. Fitzgerald is a parent of two young boys. One of the things that he emphasizes to his sons is that they learn to communicate well. He doesn’t want them to spend all their time on their smartphones. He wants his boys to learn how to talk face-to-face with others. He also wants them to know how to write meaningfully. He thinks that these traditional forms of communication are becoming a lost art. I do too.
You might be thinking, “yeah, but Fitzgerald’s success had very little to do with communication skills—he gets paid to score touchdowns.” But let me challenge that notion. Fitzgerald indicated that the ability to find mentors has played a vital role in his success. How could he have gotten people to mentor him if he didn’t know how to communicate effectively? People like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Emmitt Smith have a lot of people that their time and attention. Fitzgerald needed social skills to be able to get these people to spend their time with him. So, in my opinion, communication skills have been very important to Fitzgerald’s success. Maybe that’s why he insists that his children develop them.
What communication skills does Fitzgerald emphasize in his life? Unfortunately, we didn’t get too far down that road in our discussion. But he provided one clue. He said, “God gave you two ears for a reason, you should listen two-times more than you talk.” He has always tried to follow that rule. Maybe that’s one reason that people like Michael Jordan paid attention to him—they knew he was listening.
I’ve found that listening carefully to people is almost always appreciated. One of the reasons I’ve been able to get so many big interviews over the years is because I really try to listen during interviews. I don’t have an agenda. I genuinely want to understand the guest’s perspective. I never want the show to be about me. That approach has been a big reason for my success.
I always get a charge out of interviewing remarkable people. My interview with Larry Fitzgerald was no exception. I hope his advice about work ethic, mentorship, and communication was useful to you. I know I it was for me.
Until next time, my friends—keep striving, keep learning, keep growing.